Autumn Whirlwind

It has been a busy and interesting summer and the same can be said for how the fall is going so far.

My pavement related and offseason training goals this past summer were all but shattered when I caught a severe cold bug from (presumably, not 100% sure) a friend who was in town to visit and the result was severe bronchitis – at one point we suspected pneumonia, but thankfully the X-ray came back negative – that kept me from training or even excercising most if not all of June.
I returned to basic exercise (i.e. anything that didn’t involve running) only the final week of June and running the first week of July. And this was after SEVEN weeks of not running – I had taken two weeks off after Broad Street and was planning on light training when I contracted the bug. So coming back in the thick of the heat after seven weeks of no running?

Ugly. Just it was hilariously ugly.

I struggled to even run quarter mile intervals on the treadmill and my first run back with City Sports was a nightmare in nearly every sense of the word. Thankfully keeping at it, by the end of July I was back to basic distance, but pace, I was still off (slower) by roughly a minute/mile pace, and I was slow enough to begin with by most people’s standards.

At the same time, with work burning me out, I had taken a few short holidays to recharge. I screamed for a European vacation, especially with both the pound sterling and euro falling dramatically, I could afford RT to Ireland for 550. Yes, you are reading this correctly. $550.

Strangely, at the same time, I was also concerned about my moving expenses going to DC – especially if I took on a new job, absorbing (in most cases) relocation costs. As a result, my longer holiday for the summer was spent in Quebec. Amtrak train trip was entirely free for myself, along with a few nights in a Marriott hotel, thanks to the points I’d accumulated from my own work travels. Canada was a double edged sword – it was an aggressive agenda, seeing both Montreal and Quebec City in 6 days, 2 of which consisted of the Amtrak ride through the Adirondacks. It was a scenic ride, but overall the trip meant we were constantly on the go. It was great for keeping me in shape, but my mother was more exhausted after that week (despite my multiple warnings about the agenda and pace of the trip – several times I offered her to prolong the trip to ease the pace, but she refused as she had a religious pilgrimage the days following our return). Still I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the sights, the food and everything in between.

But breathers aside, it has been a busy summer. I visited my friend Caroline in NYC, who is training for the NYC marathon, spent a few weekends with other friends exploring the city and just overall doing fun stuff. But now a lot of the fun is slowing down – or stopping altogether – as the fall gets even crazier.

Thankfully I did not schedule myself for any half marathons at all this coming fall, between my anticipated job search, a wedding that is taking place abroad and a few other things I would have to tackle personally, scheduling my long runs for the Philadelphia Marathon was tough enough.

Training for the fall came slowly and steadily, and strangely enough, I’ve been training conservatively enough that the chances of injury to my shin are very small compared to what I encountered in 2013 when I tried to train for the half and the full and maybe leaving out a half and structuring around it might have been the answer here. Although I have been trying to keep my runs to no more than three times a week and only in excess of 14 miles for my long run do I increase to four, but never five times as my shins need longer time to recover from the longer runs. This still gives me a day to do weighttraining and a day to rest entirely. And so far it’s been fine.

My family continues to use my passion for running and travel – nothing new – as a lightning rod and sadly that has not changed. It has made things more difficult for me mentally as I cope with other issues and stress in general. Somehow, that passion will carry me through the finish, through the end of the marathon, and my time altogether in Philly. Ironically this is my last opportunity to ever run Philly and see the city in its utmost passion neighbourhood by neighbourhood – although Broad Street has done a pretty bang up job of that as well. Looking ahead to next year, I am slated for the DC marathon in March 2016, but after that, I’m looking at a general focus on my body strength and less so on endurance. I am thinking 2 races ranging between 10-13 miles – easier to train for and a much easier ability to adjust for, as personal priorities shift with my scenery.

To put it frankly, aside from focusing on my new job – wherever or whatever that might be – I will place a much heavier emphasis on my social/personal life – at my age, it is very difficult to meet new friends, although in DC, with many people my age, single, adventurous and ambitious, I won’t feel as out of place as I ever did in Philly. I remain optimistic I will find a crew of people with interests similar to mine (fitness overlapping or not) and maybe a few developing closer connections with. A stronger support network that I never really had living in Philly, that’s for sure. And even more critical now with my brother taking a position in Minnesota, much further away and moving further away myself from my own family, even as fractious as our relationship can be sometimes.

Things are complicated, but somehow I’ll sort it out.

For now, the pavement brings me peace, a peace that still, little else and only a number of people that I can count on one hand, can bring. Even on the upswing, with my first slew of interviews in November, the pavement helps me to calm the nerves before the storm.

One thing at a time. For now, the pavement helps me digest both the good things and the bad. One step at a time.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Negative Nancy?

We’ve all heard it before. The Negative Nancy. The quips that our non-runner friends may say to us. They might support us…or they might think we’re obsessive. It’s relatively straightforward (albeit not easy) to deal with those individuals whether the topic is running or another goal of ours.

What do you do when you have a loved one or a significant other who not only doesn’t support your love of running, but actively discourages it and pressures you repeatedly to stop because she doesn’t support the benefits or the belief of what running can bring? What if that person makes it the central point in holding your relationship hostage?

The above is just an example, but honestly, I’ve seen countless tweets about cutting out the negative people in your life – and that I have already done to some extent – but that strategy can also backfire significantly when it comes to a spouse, partner or immediate family being the negative one.

And when I say negative, I define it as someone who will consistently and actively discourage you from your goal, not someone who is simply absent as a source of support.

Last week, I told my mother on the phone that I was going to arrange to travel to Florida after the coming holidays as I planned for Walt Disney World Marathon. It would be my first true vacation in almost nine years (yes, nine) and a much needed break as I balance a full-time job with part-time schooling, my life for the past nine years.

Now given the trouble I got from running Marine Corps over a year ago, I should have known better. Then again she also has criticized me for – among other things – not adding her on Facebook and not telling her everything as a daughter. I cannot block her because as her daughter I am not allowed to block her out.

This would lead me to believe that she’s changed her attitude towards my running if she tells me I should trust her right? It’s been a goal of mine to try to repair our relationship, so maybe this is a start right?

Wrong, dead wrong.

When I mentioned Walt Disney, her reaction was…well I don’t know where to begin.

I would like to just block her out. It is a good train of thought. But avoiding her would mean avoiding the rest of my family.

This spreads over to the trust dilemma that I have. I say nothing to her relating to running, though I bring up other goals. One solution is not talking about running at all, but at some point a conflict of sorts will arise.

Should I really lie about flying to Florida on holiday? I tried to bring that topic up sans marathon, her next sentence was asking why January and not in the thick of summer.

Don’t get me wrong. We all have plenty of detractors in life when it comes to our goals, and chances are, most of these individuals aren’t too close to us, either strangers at best, or flat out rivals or adversaries. The ones that are close do it out of fear (rational or irrational) or ignorance.

The start line. 16 Sept 2012

The start line. 16 Sept 2012

To look at both sides of the coin, there are a variety of reasons people may object to our hobby. Let’s name them.

– time spent on training
– money spent on race fees and/or equipment
– threat and/or occurrence of injury
– time away from a partner due to the activity in question (though this can vary if the partner is a runner)
– running is a distraction from other goals (i.e. career, family life, see above)
– unhealthy obsession with diet and/or weight

I’m not defending or advocating on any of the above, but these are the common zingers I’ve either gotten myself, read about as a common problem, or heard others have gotten the same.

The specific reasons my mother has given over the last three years have changed but here are the issues she has thrown at me – and I warn you, some of these are shocking, but you cannot make these up:

1 I’m not spending my money on something worthwhile or saving for the future (similar to the generic money argument above)
2 Running shows my lack of goals and shows I don’t want to get married or raise a family
3 Running puts me at a greater risk for injury compared to simple workouts at the gym
4 You aren’t going to make a career out of it so why do it?
5 The cultural argument: that women don’t have to and should not engage in athletic activity.

Brooks Ravennas. 3 July 2011

Brooks Ravennas. 3 July 2011

Now for the common rebuttals that I have given my mother.

1 The money issue. I’ve had to attack this on two fronts. One in terms of my career and the second in terms of tradeoffs.

First, we all know that in relationships money is a sensitive topic. But my mother knows what I do for a living: I work in finance and I even have my CPA.

Now granted, does this automatically make me Suze Orman? No. However, being a financial advisor in any capacity (which is part of what I do), to not be responsible with my own money (and then advise someone else) is hypocritical at best. If I wanted to make something a priority, I’d budget accordingly.

My common retort to her is quite simple: “If I cannot afford it, without sacrificing another goal, I will not do it, end of.”

The second argument that I have is what I have sacrificed because of running from a behaviour standpoint. Running has forced me to get my diet in line. I eat out WAY less, always pack my lunch, and I rarely, if ever, drink at all. I’ve also gone out less because I need more rest on days around my long runs. Am I okay with that? Yes, I can deal. Guess what that also means though? Savings, even if that’s not a direct objective.

I love my veggies. 2 July 2012.

I love my veggies. 2 July 2012.

The bottom line? I run and make the respective sacrifices because I WANT to. Not because anyone is making me. The second I stop enjoying it, cannot afford certain things or find it impeding other important aspects of my life, is when I will stop.

When I lay these arguments in front of her, she comes up with the excuse that she is my parent and can say anything to me she wants.

That’s fine the first time because she does have a right to her opinion. I DO acknowledge her concern. Unfortunately she wants me to accept it and change. Repeating that opinion (beating a dead horse) does not fly on a perpetual basis, however.

Spinach, baby bella mushrooms, corn and goat cheese. 4 July 2012.

Spinach, baby bella mushrooms, corn and goat cheese. 4 July 2012.

2 Lack of desire to marry or raise a family. Where do I even begin? First off, I didn’t even know this was an either/or issue. I cannot even count the number of people that have some combination of family and active lifestyle and some of those people have those AND their careers.

This argument comes out of ignorance, but again, we are from a culture that promotes family and procreation, so this is a problem I would have even if I was not a runner.

My first defence will be to cite the number of people and the names of those who are doing it all.

Her argument: This is my concern for you as a parent.
My response: That’s fine and dandy, but at this point in time, that’s not a priority for me. School is.
Her response: Well look at all your friends from high school, all married and having families, and look at you.
Mine: There are many you know who can do it all and still run. As for me, children is not a path I want to take in my life. My lifestyle decisions are made irrespective of running. Right now, school is the biggest responsibility. If my grades dropped, I would have stopped ages ago.
Her: You can be in school and get married you know.
Me: Your point? Runners do not sacrifice everything to run. Some do, but the vast majority do NOT. I feel you are missing the point here.
Her: I’m keeping quiet while you are in grad school but we are going to hammer home your lack of family and hope the message gets through to you after you graduate.

After that, it will start to break down, but that’s the premise of my rebuttals.

At one point, I was advised by someone else on Twitter to tell her what I am doing to help my social life: meeting people through running events and/or graduate school. As good as that sounded, that also failed.

Her response: You can meet others who don’t encourage that [running], look at where your friends met their significant others.
Me: And some of them run together. Again look at (fill in examples of married runners).
Her response: Are you going to be running for the rest of your life? What is wrong with you?
Me: Nothing’s wrong with me, unless the doctor or trainer says so.

Smart-alecky on my part, I know, but I’m running out of options.

3 Injury. I have been running for our years, competitively (in races) the last three. Number of self-imposed injuries I’ve had? ONE. July 2010. Nothing since.

I focus on injury prevention in my training through my stretching exercises and an appropriate amount of weighttraining focusing on my core and quads. I rest 1-2 times a week depending on mileage, change and rotate my shoes accordingly.

Within my control, I have been fine. I pick up a few knocks here and there, but nothing that requires nothing more than RICE and possibly an extra rest day.

Outside of my control – two impact injuries sustained during races – have not occurred since MCM (October 2011). I’ve learnt from my mistakes and potential hazards. Does this mean I can prevent everything coming up? No, but I can read up, take advice from the veterans, and I reassure them that I clear everything every year with the pros.

Finisher's Medal, 30 October 2011.

Finisher’s Medal, 30 October 2011.

In this case, she has no rebuttal. She is not a physician and she herself is reluctant to argue with a doctor. As a result, she usually switches off to one of the other excuses.

4 Career Importance. The fitness career argument is relevant if I want to make it so. Plenty of people have had second careers as fitness professionals or personal trainers. I’ve kicked around several times wanting to be a spin instructor on the side, but this won’t be feasible until I graduate and don’t have to commit to schoolwork.

Overall though, this is irrelevant. It is a hobby that plays to my strengths and interests. People have hobbies, I tell her. Unfortunately, it rotates to the same argument given in #1 or #2, either I’m wasting money on something where there is no benefit or that I should be focusing my time on having a family.

“Your family will and should be your main focus. No need for a hobby.” she would say.

I’m not against family values, but last I checked, I thought mothers even tried to forge out some “me” time?

5 Culture. This is not something she explicitly states to me but many women of our culture emphasize physical relaxation and that sedentarism is the way to go. Thin women are seen as unattractive, and the diet is drastically different. She does not lecture me on my diet as she has lived in the States for a considerable amount of time however and also because I was raised on sports in my youth.

I have told her in the past that American culture is different and that my career requires a fast paced approach to living. The problem is that when I bring up culture, she either straight up denies it or goes back to the “I am the parent and what I say to you goes” mantra.

The reason finding a solution here matters is because unlike other “naysayers” I particularly cannot avoid my mother nor can (or should, really) I kick her out of my life. I also have a very good relationship with rest of my family that could also be an issue if I do truly kick her out.

At the very least I’d like to get her to leave me in peace, but even that seems like a big ask at this point.

That all said, I know it’s hard for some people to envision or discuss family matters or anything negative about family. I fully understand that in many cultures, family is and should be always numero uno.

Unfortunately not all of us were born with the same deck of cards and we’ve got to play what we have the best we can.

What are some of the ways you cope with a family member that does not support your running or other goals?

It’s a real kick in the teeth for me, because I vowed I would try to repair an increasingly frayed relationship with her. It is looking less and less likely now, this year, or even ever. My values, hopes and dreams are ever divergent from hers.

Your feedback is much appreciated. Post, tweet or email your observations, it’s all good. That’s all I’m aiming for – not a bashfest, not even a pity party. I am only looking to solve the problem at least with respect to the running.

Hopefully I can run the Walt Disney World marathon in peace, that’s all I really want. It’s a tough topic for many but one I felt I had to put out there.

Thanks for your understanding and I look forward to reading your responses.

Putting the Flash in Flash Mob

DISCLAIMER: There is some mild and partial nudity in the picture I have posted, including the video clip I have uploaded and Wikipedia link. I have included a link to the video on YouTube, and flagged it accordingly on that site. Discretion advised.

So I was studying in Rittenhouse Square Sunday evening, reading up for my risk management class around 5:40pm when we were ambushed literally. More than 1500 bikers, scantily clad, or not wearing anything at all, took to the streets of Center City Philadelphia (unbeknownst to me at the time) to protest in favour of cycling rights, more biker-friendly roads and streets, as well as protesting against our dependency on oil and other environmentally-related grievances.

Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride 2011, 4 September 2011.

They had paraded through Fairmount and through Old City and Washington West, and coming into Rittenhouse, they entered the west side of the square. As I was studying, I had heard screams and a loud chorus of horn-honking. As more people screamed, I packed up, certain something of consequence was happening as I noticed more people shifting towards the west side of the square.

And then I saw it: a bevy of orange flags, and cries of “bike race!”

At the pace the bikers appeared to be going, I made the assumption it was a children’s race.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Link to video here:
Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride 2011 (Rittenhouse Square)

The bikers – most of them – were naked.

I mean, men and women, just letting it hang all out. Some were in bodypaint. Others in bathing suits, some of the men in boxers, some in costume. Only a few were fully clothed.

It made no sense to me, and to many of the other bystanders, who admitted they saw more than they wanted to see. One could make the argument there were children playing in the park and they should not have had to see it. If I had a young child, I would have rushed her towards the middle of the park, away from the cyclists. However, for the informed and/or curious adult, myself being one of them, I did Google local Philadelphia articles/news outlets to see if this might have made the news – 1500-odd bikers taking Center City naked – surely it was bound to hit an outlet somewhere, even if only a small newsclip.

And sure enough I found out what a (again, discretion advised, nude pictures even in the Wiki link) “Naked Bike Ride” was, why cyclists in cities throughout the world campaign for cyclist awareness and/or environmental rights and why they chose to draw their attention through nudity (creative self-expression a la the Burning Man festival) and so forth.

I’ll admit I’m not as much a cyclist, nor would I ever parade myself naked or even in a bathing suit around Center City Philadelphia, even if others felt I looked good enough. However, I can empathize with the need for more biker-friendly roads, as Philadelphia could stand to take a few cues from NYC, DC and even some smaller and European cities to not be so car-dependent (as some people choose not to be or cannot afford to be) all the time. Understandably it is quite difficult in West Coast cities where the infrastructure is collectively less developed or far too spread out (think Los Angeles), but on the East Coast, there is hardly any excuse. And certainly not for Philadelphia, or of what I’ve seen of and lived in, for the past decade and counting.

It would be nice to see my city step it up in terms of more cyclist paths, and as a runner, seeing less constraint between cyclists and runners on Kelly Drive would be a nice welcome change.

(Additional note: Regarding the title of this post, for those of you that live in Philly, particularly downtown, should be familiar with the concept of flash mobs, particularly the more malicious ones that have attacked patrons in the city. This was a mob, alright, but it sure did what a “real” flash mob would do – draw attention from spectators gasping in shock and awe.)

Mission: Slay the Dragons

I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of June.

It’s scaring me. So much has happened and the last two weeks have been nothing short of stressful and traumatic. At the very least, busy.

I soared in graduate school. Straight As for my first semester and summer school. Made a lot of new friends.

Work is going shockingly well, even if stressful at times.

The relationship between my mother and I continues to deteriorate. The criticism of my lifestyle gets harsher, and an imposition of her values through the action of a so-called family friend has started to take an ultimate grip on my ability to breathe.

Last month I fled my old hood to remove myself from that situation. I’ve been compromised and I feel rotten because the situation I’m in is something that I have read in Time magazine and other mass media, and I never imagine it could happen to me.

My new one, although nicer, feels like a prison in some ways. I’ve been told I haven’t come to grips with my situation, as I am where I am solely because of my situation; absent that, I would have stayed.

My grandfather is getting much sicker, and I’ve been told he won’t live much longer. I will visit him very soon. It’s just that he’s 10,000 miles away and 10 hour difference.

Sometimes I feel so helpless.

At the same time, I am moving on.

For what I lack of family relationships, the friendships I have, have been invaluable. Running partners, old friends from school and newer ones from graduate school, and extended family, have all been invaluable getting through the last several months.

I told another coworker of mine (apart from Sergio) that the move represented a total loss of control in my life. That I was there because of my situation. To which she said “no you have it backwards.”

The move, she said, represented, my taking back control of my situation.

I never looked at it that way. Until she mentioned it.

I’ve thought of the past month since I moved here. A lot of things have shockingly fallen into place. I do now, in some aspects, feel I am reclaiming the lost few years of my life after college to some respect.

To top it off, a friend of mine from school and I have been spending more time together. But he’s also made it clear he wants more than just friendship. I’m surprised because there’s a part of me that wondered if I’d ever find someone close to what I was looking for in a partner. But shockingly, he has a lot of traits I am looking for. Work hard, play hard, career first, die hard urbanite, physically active, and die-hard traveller. We’re taking it slow, but having fun in the process. We’ll see what happens.

I’m counting my blessings. I’m taking the good with the bad. I am taking the good to (when possible) help me get through the bad.

And with running cohorts in tow, I am starting my quest to slay the dragon.

The MCM Dragon of Doom.

I’m weightlifting more recently. I’ve gotten into spinning. My knees feel stronger, and I’m running more intervals faster. Workouts that scared me before, now I have the confidence to take them on.

I nearly freaked out when I saw myself running sub-9 minute miles. I remember when 10-minute miles were pushing it for me.

And I’m communicating with other runners. Training tips, and plans. 5am workouts. Post-training brunches and gelato runs on 20th Street. (NB: 20th Street off Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square is dessert row, at least 2 ice cream places, and 3 cupcakeries abound…)

More camaraderie with each run. I like it that way.

Vee's training plan from Runner's World.

Slowly but surely, I am picking up the pieces. One at a time.

And I am looking to rise like a phoenix from the ashes on and off the pavement.

I’ve been compromised, but I have hope, more hope and support than ever, that I will survive, and things will turn out alright in the end.

And I’m becoming more and more confident that I can slay that dragon 30 October. Even with a hill at Mile 25.

Speed of Light

If I had to name a song of the moment, at least of my life, it’d have to be Britt Black’s Speed of Light.

Ever since my first class, my life’s been going at warp speed, both in the office, at school and for the most part, even in my personal life, and even in my own world.

My training runs are going just like that. The time flies when I’m doing schoolwork, the group projects, the walks to Rittenhouse whether it be for schoolwork or for hanging out with friends.

And multitasking has yet again become a staple of my life.

I can’t say this is a bad thing. But some people don’t seem to understand how I’m not going insane. Some people even try and dictate how I should live my life. And I’m not even talking family at this point.

I’m starting to discover I have a thirst for the unusual, or at the very least wanting an interesting life. I don’t want to settle for the same routine that others have. Unusual people do unusual things, my cousin Adrian said to me when we were talking about the balance between work and personal life.

But I also don’t want to be made felt inferior or guilty for it. At the very least I could use a little more support in the pursuit of my goals and desires. The very process of achieving these goals is not a joke. It’s not easy.

The thought of working full-time whilst studying part-time is rather time-consuming, and even then that’s an understatement. A lot of people out there would rather do a full-time two year program. It is a lot easier to meet members of your cohort and it’s the only thing you have to focus on for two years – well that and your recruitment period your second year. (And of course your post-first year internship.)

But people who do part-time school don’t do it for the hell of it. In this economy, it’s dangerous to leave your job if you have one. Some people’s employers pay for your education and that number now is getting fewer, if you are one of the lucky ones and if you want to grow within your company, this is honestly the best possible option for you economically. And that’s the thing. For some of us – including and especially myself – it comes down to money. Particularly because my mother was effective in stopping supporting me early on as an undergrad, but unfortunately I was too far along as an undergrad where transferring would have been a pain, plus I didn’t even have the money to move. Scary.

So I’m doing both now. And I’m embracing it, time management as a post-bac has served me well, so I’m taking advantage of every opportunity I can get. Yes I’m tight on time, but I work well that way. And even if I didn’t, I’d have to force myself to do so. I’m in a position where I’m one of the few without a master’s plus I may want to move elsewhere. Either way, my new degree will help a lot.

And people who want to give me nothing but sarcasm can just turn the other way. I know my strengths in all facets, and my friends support me no matter what I do. Of course, I am finding out who my true friends are in all this, but I guess it’s one of those painful lessons learnt.

Strength From Around and Within

Last Saturday after yet another mentally exhausting week, I trudged over to my friends’ places in Rittenhouse Square. By the time I had gotten there, I was in tears.

I am so sick of fighting with my family. I am breaking down. I feel so alone.

Okay, let me rephrase that.

I am so sick of feeling like the only one that is fighting with my family.

I had just departed my boyfriend’s place in Washington West; my left knee was slightly hurting, but deep inside, I was hurting like no tomorrow. I never would have imagined that more and more I am relying on my friends for the support I need to get through every day. My present relationship I feel is going through slight challenges (emphasis on slight, folks) but I find this more stimulating and inspiring me to be a better person and to make things work, whereas my relationship with my family is flat out daunting and draining.

As for Jeff, with a six-week vacation, it proves to be another challenge. Travel time plus varying interests on both our ends had already been a challenge. But in spite of the challenges, both of us cared about each other to continue to make it work.

I can live with this challenge. I’m not going to change my beliefs, but I am willing to change my behaviour. There’s a huge difference. I won’t compromise my beliefs, but before Jeff, I had not dated for seven years. I had been in survival mode for that time. As a result, I am still getting used to the giving and taking, that I will admit. Even so, our approaches to a lot of things are quite different. I subscribe to a “work hard, play hard” mentality; he is just the opposite “work hard, relax hard” as he put it.

Personally I was glad this was addressed. It’s cool. I have no issues. Deep down, I knew there were a number of reasons for this. I only wished I’d communicated certain elements on my end a bit sooner. For that I was kicking myself in the behind. I made this same mistake in university, I need to be more proactive with my concerns. But even then we’re going to make it work. I’m learning again about life and love, and I am grateful for this. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, I think it’s safe to say we’ll both be of stronger characters for it.

Even then, I want to feel I can vent to someone like Jeff when I need to. Or any of my friends for that matter. Yet even in spite of my friends and Jeff himself, I’m starting to think I may need a support group of some sort because I am continuously finding myself not only foundering with every twist and turn in the family drama saga but more and more afraid of the stigma. I also fear that those that cannot relate will get sick of me venting. Then again I know I have a self-confidence issue. I should be able to trust my friends, but there are days you find you can’t trust some people the hard way. It’s happened enough, and I hate that feeling.

There are days I feel alone. And I am working on building (or in some cases, rebuilding) relationships with others. My friends are valuable, but my family – what should be the ultimate bedrock – is becoming increasingly unreliable if not detrimental to my life.

I dread the holidays more and more. The screaming, the fighting. Upon venting, my friend Angela had told me to listen to Katy Perry’s Firework – at first I thought she was crazy, but upon listening to the lyrics closer, she had a point.

Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

[…]

You don’t have to feel like a waste of space
You’re original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe you’re reason why all the doors are closed
So you can open one that leads you to the perfect road

Katy Perry was singing THIS???? I listened more intently.

Ultimately, the song drew me to tears and the music video (when I watched it later) even more so upon seeing the screaming between the parents. The two children taking cover in the adjacent room reminded me of Marcus and myself dodging the family fights.

Watch “Firework” on YouTube.

Then again, tonight, after I closed the office down with Sergio, I was reminded that no, I am not alone. At this point, he may as well be my older brother. As blunt and a fighter as my younger brother Marcus is, that’s how he is as well. Except in Sergio’s case, coming from a very traditional, upper-class conservative Jewish family, both his parents were on his case, and today his father is still on his case about his personal life. Who he is dating. What his girlfriend’s career is like and how much she is making. I keep telling him that I want to spare him from my “woe is me” stories, but he only encourages me to get it out.

The chatter tonight started out about our upcoming half marathons; Sergio will run his next half in Miami 30 January and then I had brought up ShamrockFest occurring in the middle of my family’s vacation – and the start of my mother’s ridiculously long break.

It was then Sergio then asked about my family, to which I indicated that visits home were now becoming more heated than conference calls with my current client.

“Trust me,” he commiserated with me on the walk home from work today, “I know ALL about this. We both need interventions badly. You need to get it out. Because if you don’t it’s going to kill you. Don’t let it kill you. Let it out and laugh it off. Anyone who thinks it’s your fault you’re in this situation is an idiot. Laugh at the ignorance of everyone in your family dealing the way they are. I can get through this, and so can you. You are smarter and more insightful than they ever will be. You will have the last laugh.”

“I’m not proud of my situation,” I said in frustration. “I’m not proud of throwing family out the window. I look at everyone else but I am so [flipping] ashamed. I am so frustrated I’m getting increasingly close to my breaking point.”

“You’re not going to be proud,” he replied, “I’ve been there. I have cut my family off for months when they’ve crossed the line. My father tears down my girlfriend every chance he gets, and I won’t take any of his [garbage].”

I stopped short. Did he just say he cut his family off? He never mentioned this to me before.

“You’ve survived twelve years of this horse [manure],” Sergio replied, “but you are being forced to choose between bad and worse. Your sanity and mental health come first, second, and third.”

Hold on a second. Why was this sounding familiar all of a sudden? God, Jeff had only told me the same thing Saturday night.

There was just one key difference now: I was hearing it from someone that had experienced the hell almost as bad if not worse than I had.

Maybe this is what I needed, hearing this from someone who had actually walked a little in my shoes. To some extent it was easing the fear of the unknown for me, that my colleague was a living example that getting through it is possible.

depressed woman Pictures, Images and Photos

Make no mistake, Sergio is hurting, but he’s carrying on. He’s pushing on – with a smile on his face, with a vengeance, all whilst being realistic.

You can get through this. Yes you can.

The next five months of my life are going to be critical. Marcus is saying Phoebe will be bogged down by work commitments through mid-March to be able to harp on me. The next six weeks after that will be a long vacation for her, the latter four will take her abroad to Sri Lanka. That is six weeks of paradise for me. But all that will vanish come May.

Marcus feels he’s got four months to push back against my mother before free time opens up for her and all hell breaks loose.

Whilst I applaud his efforts, and I love him all the more for it, I admit deep down the odds are against him trying to pull something off in four months that I had been unable to do for twelve years.

“The irony here,” Marcus quipped, “is for someone that claims to be family-oriented, she is destroying the family by doing this to you.”

“Yeah, but if I don’t follow the path, I’m not part of the family, I’m a cancer instead. You heard her.”

Four months. I’m going to get through this, and I’m going to need every ounce of strength and support that I can get from my brother, my cousins and my friends. Every grain.

And now that I know, I plan on picking Sergio’s brain a little more for pointers, to the extent he remains comfortable. Then again, what if my venting opened him up? Hmmm…

I’m going to survive with the help of others, even if it means I have to walk out on my family for good. I think I might just be able to do this.

I Will Not Lose Myself

“I’m really worried about you with your family situation,” my boyfriend said to me in his apartment last weekend. “I’m not worried someone will physically hurt you, but I am worried about your mental well being.”

As I reflect and type this up, I look at the list of deadlines involving moving to a new place to live, entirely caused by my family debacle. I have until the end of the month to break my lease, cancel my gym membership at the end of the current term and a few other things. In two weeks, I will sign the papers for my new place. I’m deciding between two places, or rather two buildings, with options for different floors, and in the case of a few of them, depending on which place I go with, I may have a roommate.

Just another thing to do on the checklist. One thing at a time.

I’m going to get through this. I have a lot of things now that I did not have when I was twenty. A rewarding career on many levels, friends that I have close contact with one way or another, and a special someone who has been good to me so far.

I’m going to get through this. I’m not going to die. I’m going to make it. Once I move to my new place, I don’t have to worry about being physically harmed. It will not happen again. Yes, I said it – again. I’m going to make it.

“You’re worried about security?” quipped my friend Kirsten (who is also a prospective roommate at the moment), “Nothing to worry about here. If the doormen are suspicious, they will challenge you to produce ID or a FOB. If you don’t have that, they make sure you aren’t here if you aren’t supposed to be here. If you aren’t a resident, you won’t make it to the front desk without being escorted by one, end of story.”

Oh goodness, music to my ears. Just a few more weeks…

I have every reason to get through this. I have so much else going for me. I need to focus on what I have, and not what I don’t. Even if what I “don’t” is a pillar that so many in this world can rely on. I need to live without the pillar. I didn’t make that choice, someone else did for me.

“God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”

I’m going to get through this. My family has been eating at me for eleven going on twelve years. But they will not eat me alive.

I’m going to get through this. I will not lose myself.

Repeat: I will not lose myself. Pillar or no pillar, I will not lose myself.

Seven years ago, I was all alone. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was just me and the books, and my pillows. I had little to no money – all of it was going towards rent and tuition. My then-boyfriend had broken up with me out of the blue and at the time I had no idea why. I was working 30 hour weeks on top of 18+ credits a semester. On top of that were numerous scholarship applications. I needed to support myself. I had no real close friends and my high school friends weren’t located anywhere near me. And on any given night, I wasn’t getting more than 5 hours of sleep.

If I went home for breaks, I was yelled at. On occasion, I was beaten up. I remember screaming in pain when my ex had run his fingers through my hair – he had unknowingly caressed the bruises I sustained from getting beat up. I remember lying to my hairdresser my during my third year at UPenn – as she was cutting my hair, she noticed the red and purple bruises peeking from beneath the roots of my hair.

“Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, I was inadvertently clouted in Sunday’s soccer match.”

It was humiliating. I couldn’t take it anymore. Just when I had thought it was all over…I woke up in a hospital room.

Today, my soul is wounded but not broken. My spirit has regrown, and is stronger than ever. I’m older, yet wiser. I’m scarred, yet tenacious.

“Tenacity personified,” my brother Marcus told me, “For someone who isn’t even 30 yet, you have been through a hell of a lot.”

My colleague Sergio, who has had similar problems with his family (but NOT to the extent of abuse), and particularly his mother before she passed away, also empathized with me.

“We’re distance runners,” he said. “When the going gets tough, we keep going. That’s also true in real life too.”

I knew how much family issues had taken a toll on Sergio. For years, he had fought with his mother; finally, when she was in the hospital for months, he found himself driving up every weekend to North Jersey to be with her. Even with the 100+ hour weeks at his former job. Even getting calls from clients at 3am on Sunday mornings.

This past summer, he took some time off work for her unveiling.

(Note: Sergio is Jewish; the unveiling is a religious ceremony where immediate family members shred clothing in mourning of the deceased family member.)

When he came back, he admitted to me that the fighting and her passing still hurt.

After all I’ve been through, I have no idea what I’d do if something happened to her. I miss the Phoebe I knew in 1999, the one that ultimately died in 2002.

Yet, I feel that everywhere I go, everyone talks about the wonderful times they have with family. Everywhere on facebook, there are people my age, smiling with their parents. Even my relatives from abroad, my cousins and their mothers are best friends. What hurts me the most is the stigma that results should I tell people that my mother and I fight nearly all the time. When I told others years ago, they either didn’t believe me or said that I was part of the problem.

It took me a lot of nerve two weeks ago when I met up with Patrick and Rina at Old Glory to admit that things were truly turning for the worse with my family. When we were in high school, Patrick would see me with my smiling mother.

That was 11 years ago, before things turned rotten.

I was scared they’d think less of me. I was scared confessing the same thing to some of my other close friends from high school, all of whom we’ve kept in touch over the years. I have attended all their weddings, and my one friend’s Baptism (Catholic initiation ceremony for usually newborns, although adults are baptized if they convert) for her son. Every event, the parents are there. Always in full support, always socializing with everyone.

It took me a hell of a lot of gumption to tell them that I was struggling as my mother continued to torture me. Instead of ridicule, though, I got just the opposite. I couldn’t believe it.

My friend Tania, whose fiancé is Indian, told me that his brother no longer attends family gatherings because he is constantly hounded by family to get married and have children to the point of insanity. The sibling in question is 35 or so, though, whilst Tania’s fiancé is also our age, late 20s. “Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want to,” another friend of mine explained to me. “The world has changed drastically in the last ten years, so have some people with the times, and not always for the better. Some of us might be fortunate with our families, but now family just isn’t what it used to be.”

In times of strife, I learn who my real friends are. If I didn’t lose any friends in this process – and I didn’t – then I have no reason – or excuse – to lose myself.

Nonetheless, it’s a nightmare I live now. Eleven years. More brutal than any other marathon that I will ever tackle. THIS is a real-life marathon to endure.

26.2 is nothing now. You can’t compare four hours give or take of stress and pain to eleven years of pure hell. Not to mention you have the opportunity to prepare for the former; you can’t really do so for the latter.

The former will continue to be one of many remedies for the latter though. That won’t change.

I remember Lou Holtz’s speech during my business trip to San Antonio in October.

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it.”

I will get through this. I will not lose myself. The going got tough all right, but I will keep going, both on and off the pavement.